Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Street arts and smarts

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Theater on July 9, 2016 at 9:02 am

best to concentrate on details at the moment. As soon as I widen the frame, the view gets too depressing. The ugly stuff doesn’t go away, nor does the awareness of it. But the ugliness doesn’t need any help from me in its propagation.

The noise from the late-night band ended past one AM. Basic chords repeated ad nauseam to a pounding drum beat. The audience loved it and kept asking for more. Not the finest moment in the history of this town’s street festival.

There’s an off-festival venue this year, in the inner courtyard of one of the schools where I do (or did?*) coaching. A group of caravans, a large she-goat, Celtic music, puppetry – from the most elementary to the more accomplished. In the more polished category, Rêves d’une poule ridicule gets my vote. I’ve seen the show evolve from its first – hm – embryo? The mock strip-tease of a chicken getting plucked and groomed for the plunge into the stew pot is now the pièce de résistance in a thirty-minute show with great miming and acting by the three comedians and great musical support from their accordionist. A show that works for kids and grown-ups alike.


*When your friends get ostracized, you can’t help wondering when your turn will show up. I hate it when people reveal a seamy side I only imagined they had in the fictional renditions I’d done of them. Local people. People I meet on the street and with whom the simple exchange of pleasantries isn’t possible anymore. Some line has been crossed where being right is the same as being wrong. You weren’t supposed to question the treatment delivered to kids who deserved better. You did. So much for genial hand waves and kiss-kiss at the local market. If it stopped there, it wouldn’t matter much – plenty of other people to wave at and chat up. But the back-room maneuvers to destroy people’s reputations and professional standing? Unsavory, to say the least.


Details. An empty water bottle where none stood before you left the house. A door double-locked where you only turn the key once because the door is so flimsy the lock is the only part of it that might sustain a direct kick.

Signs of someone else’s presence. Someone who comes and goes. Lets me know where he’s going, then goes there. Eats the food but leaves the dirty dishes (in a clever way: by leaving a few uneaten bites in the dish). A teenager in other words.

He’ll be away for a week, and replaced by a grown-up.


As for single or double-locking of a door: with summer windows wide open and the gitano community grilling meat, drinking beer and playing the flamenco between parked cars on Place du Château, there’s no need of locks or keys. You go by your reputation in this part of town. That’s just fine by me, no matter what local back room boys and girls dream up as put-downs to justify their part in la comédie humaine.

While a silly tune plays havoc with my head

In Absurdlandia, Artists, Circus, Dance, dreams, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Theater on July 3, 2016 at 8:35 am

This is serious. Come on. Look at the mess on your desk. Look at everything you must get done before nightfall. Plus, the horrors, the miseries, the emergencies. Plus, you must take some time for yourself, as they say. Relax. Wind down. But Think Of Others! But don’t stress out. But…! and so on.

Tragedy/Comedy. An impossible balancing act? But so is the simple act of walking.

Few of us will ever push the act of walking up to the level of walking on point, one foot at a time, on overturned glasses. And, indeed, what is the use or the purpose of achieving such a level of strength, grace and daring? No purpose. The notion must have appealed to the circus artist* the same way a crawling baby decides he’s going to manage that trick of walking on his hind legs no matter how many times he lands on his bum.

Impossible. The tragedies, too deep. The comedies, too superficial. “Not funny,” say the mourners, and of course, they’re right. Except for the fact laughter doesn’t ask anybody’s permission to show up, even at a funeral. Laughter breaks forth – in churches, in schools, in hospitals. It can even break forth while having sex or visiting a sorely afflicted friend stranded in dire circumstances. How? Why? Because of something incongruous. Something that breaks the solemnity. A fly on the solemn speaker’s nose. A piece of savage wit. Anything, anything at all that interrupts the narrative and sends it spinning off in another direction.

Something silly enough to interrupt even horror?I don’t know, although some of my characters keep on trying to break through that barrier too.

For now they’ll have to take the back seat while I tackle another bout of paper sorting, laundry and house-cleaning, prior to various visits – official and otherwise –  to my humble home. (The official part happens on Tuesday. Can I greet two persons from Aide Sociale à l’Enfance with my living-room in this condition? And my kitchen? And – gad – the bathroom. Will you look at this mess in the office? )

and so on.

*La danseuse sur verre (Lucie Boulay). You can see her performance on youtube or visit this page of Le Boustrophedon’s website.

When you can’t run, amble

In and other spirits, Circus, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on July 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

Two brief encounters last night, like book-ends to an overlong evening at the year-end staff party in a local school.

After a familiar brown face peered out at me from a passing car, I found the owner of the face loitering near one of the local homes sheltering young migrants awaiting validation of their papers. He attended a few of my workshops and shows a natural talent for writing. In fact, in one of those workshops, he told me his life ambition was to be a poet, but he’d settle for social work. Well, he’s made a success of his school year so they’ve signed him up for a Bac Pro (the French designation for a trade-oriented B.A.). In social work? Literature? No, in Entretien des équipements industriels (Maintenance of Industrial Equipment).

He laughed – sort of – when he said it and added he couldn’t send me emails anymore because the computers didn’t work in the Home. I told  him to sign up for my sessions in August and, in the meantime, to read through his writing and attempt to combine into one powerful statement the many attempts he’d made throughout the text at getting a certain something across.

The walk home involved an isolated stretch between the stadium and the pool where I keep a wary eye and a jaunty step. A group of teen-aged boys approached, thoroughly engrossed in their world – no problem there. Then a solitary figure came my way. I gave him a crisp bonsoir in the murky light. He answered something I couldn’t make out as I walked by, then called out Madame in a light voice. The voice was so soft, I hesitated before turning. He laid a hand on his heart to show his good intentions and came closer. “I’m Salah,” he said and I recognized the boy I coached (for a total of four hours…) prior to his French literature exam. He didn’t have the results yet, but he was pleased. The luck of the draw landed him a text by Voltaire to comment and he’d applied the rules I’d pointed out, he said. Held out his hand for a handshake, smiled, said merci with all the hardware glinting on his teeth, and took off.



Something quite beautiful picked out this morning of an article in Le Monde about French poet Yves Bonnefoy who died yesterday at age ninety-three. « La tâche du poète est de montrer un arbre, avant que notre intellect nous dise que c’est un arbre, » he once wrote. (The poet’s task is to show a tree before our intellect tells us it’s a tree.)

Maybe the same applies to fiction writing. Slow going at the moment, in my case. There’s some fascinating stuff to translate (for a fee? wheeeee!) for a circus group and a puppet theatre. Papers, emergencies, laundry, friends…hop-hop-hop.

Allez? hop-hop-hop. Or maybe at a slower, steadier clip because I’m not keeping a hop-hop-hop kind of pace these days.


In Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on June 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

Everything in need of one more push. Paper sorting and filing. Housework. Not supposed to look a given horse in the mouth? Maybe but a given fridge, yes. That part of the clean-up: done. Fridge operational and smokers take heed: baked white enamel can return from years of exposure to tobacco. Personally, I would clean a fridge prior to donating it but that’s me.

Paper. More paper. Emails. Phone calls. The blessed tumble into sleep. (Note to self: when read in an over-tired state, the final act in King Lear sees bodies falling left and right and the dazed reader no longer knowing who the players are. Kent, Gloucester, Albany, Edmund, Edgar, Regan, Goneril, Oswald, a manservant, another, exeunt, enter the mad king, etc.)

Paper. Documents. Scraps with scribbles. Kitchen, cleaning and re-organizing. Bedroom. Books. Office: incorporating a bed in limited space. Books. Sorting. Phone calls. Tiny, precious breaks to allow the child to play with a trinket or find the one and only right spot for a favorite stone or framed photo or book. Food to recover from the neighbor’s fridge. A haircut – must work it into the mix today before the photo shoot tomorrow after the meeting at social services, etc.

Pause. Time out. Seamus Heaney. A poem. Forget generalities. Specifics, always. This day. This moment. This story, searching for its own voice.

At the Wellhead

Your songs, when you sing them with your two eyes closed

As you always do, are like a local road

We’ve known every turn of in the past –

That midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road where you stood

Looking and listening until a car

Would come and go and leave you lonelier

Than you had been to begin with. So, sing on,

Dear shut-eyed one, dear far voiced veteran,

Sing yourself to where the singing comes from,

Ardent and cut off like our blind neighbour

Who played the piano all day in her bedroom.

Her notes came out to us like hoisted water

Raveling off a bucket at the wellhead

Where next thing we’d be listening, hushed and awkward.


That blind-from-birth, sweet-voiced, withdrawn musician

Was like a silver vein in heavy clay.

Night water glittering in the light of day.

But also just our neighbor, Rosie Keenan.

She touched our cheeks. She let us touch her braille

In books like books wallpaper patterns came in.

Her hands were active and her eyes were full

Of open darkness and a watery shine.

She knew us by our voices. She’d say she ‘saw’

Whoever or whatever. Being with her

Was intimate and helpful, like a cure

You didn’t notice happening. When I read

A poem with Keenan’s well in it, she said,

‘I can see the sky at the bottom of it now.’

Moving stuff around

In Absurdlandia, and other spirits, Animals, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, news coverage, proto drafts, Theater on June 27, 2016 at 8:26 am

I’m not personally acquainted with toads. They have an unattractive appearance which leads to negative symbolic representations. But I’ve never met a toad in any significant way so I don’t see why I should insult the species by comparing the squishy and repulsive double-speak of a Boris Johnson to that of the warty amphibian.

Not that Monsieur Johnson is alone in his pond of squishiness. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…” Caliban says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not all of the noises are sweet airs, nor are they restricted to the isle. Given the cacophonies reported in various media outlets, a healthy and varied reading diet comes high on my personal sanity scale. While I’d like longer stretches of time in which to concentrate on my proto draft, varied sources of activity aren’t a bad idea either.

The title summarizes what’s going on over here, both in general living and in writing terms. Housecleaning, exchanging a fridge with a freezer compartment against the current one going as a donation to the street festival. Freezer compartments are nice to have if you plan to organize meals in a less chaotic way.

Back to toads for a second because there is something toadish about Johnson. In the literary sense:

“Meanwhile, Toad, gay and irresponsible, was walking briskly along the high road, some miles from home. At first he had taken bypaths , and crossed many fields, and changed his course several times, in case of pursuit; but now, by this time feeling safe from recapture, and the sun smiling brightly on him, and all nature joining in a chorus of approval to the song of self-praise that his own heart was singing to him, he almost danced along the road in his satisfaction and conceit.” (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows).

As reported in The Guardian, Johnson wrote the following in his column at the Telegraph : “There were more than 16 million who wanted to remain.They are our neighbours, brothers and sisters who did what they passionately believe was right. In a democracy majorities may decide but everyone is of equal value.We who are part of this narrow majority must do everything we can to reassure the remainers.We must reach out, we must heal, we must build bridges – because it is clear that some have feelings of dismay, and of loss, and confusion.”

Brave new world, and the dawning of a gentler, kinder Boris. Yes, all of us lowly non-elected ones are well-served by our champions in the political arena, these days. I have to wonder what a Rabelais or a Jonathan Swift would have made of it all.

For now: windows open to air that’s still cool. The sound of pigeons flapping their wings above the rooftops. Oh yes, and the small lizard that’s taken shelter under my bed. He(she) comes out at times. Slithers up onto the mattress or freezes on the floor. I’d hate to squish it by accident. Plus, living under a human’s bed must make for a solitary life and a limited diet too.

But how to get the message across the species barrier? Fear not, I come in friendship, little lizzy, and wish to point you to the exit. The window, see? Open. Freedom. Escape.The great outdoors. (I’ve tried this approach. Last night, I even extended an old world wall map as a carrier. No go. When my sister comes visiting, I’ll have to explain about the lizard under her bed.)

quip, quack?

In Artists, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, proto drafts, Theater on June 24, 2016 at 8:14 am

Looks like rubber duckies are in for a hard time. Should they retire? Commit rubber ducky hara-kiri (a swift puncture on a rusty nail, rubber ducky fills with water and sinks in a dead faint, investigated by fishes in search of a tasty snack).


I promised my neighbors a moussaka dinner for tonight. Cooking early to avoid an overheated kitchen. A Greek dish, as the next scene in the European drama opens on cheering Britons (and despondent ones too). Plus cheering right-wingers across Europe chafing at the bit for their share in the dismantling of the European so-called union. The distance between symbols and their underlying reality: astounding, at times.

The words “the people”, for instance. Has anyone ever met an entity called “the people”? No. Collective swings in mood happen, some more enduring than others. The way some cloud formations persist longer than others. But “the people”? Whose? Where? Which one?


Meanwhile, King Lear grows ever more befuddled, poor dear. What can a poor fool do when his employer loses his grip? Observe, comment, quip. A good name for a fool, that. Quip. “I quip therefore I endure.” Until the curtain falls – in a stately manner, or in a heap.

So. Moussaka. Phone calls. Appointments. New story, bit by tiny bit. Plus Shakespeare, still my favorite Briton.

Whatever you do, make sure you re-arrange the truth

In Artists, Current reading, dreams, Hautvoir, Music, notes, photography, proto drafts, Theater on June 20, 2016 at 7:00 am

The estrangement is subtle. Subtler things are easy to pass by. When you do, they leave an impression, a dis-ease with no clear name stamped on it, except that of estrangement.

A group of people. Some you like more, some less, but you are linked together by a common task. At some point, one of them evokes a childhood memory – a song, a popular figure or even, the names of Snow White’s seven dwarves in their childhood recollections. The stories tumble out – first one, then another, in the usual way groups react to something meaningful. To some of the memories you wish to react with your own, except…

Except you know you’ll interrupt the flow. Why? Because you’ll need to provide context – another country, another culture, a different way of relating to what the group is sharing. Sometimes, you join in with this bit of yours and modify the flow. More often than not, you don’t. A camera’s a good thing to have in those moments. You’re the one in the group who clicks the shutter every so often, the way one of the dwarves is called Sleepy and another…whatever – the names of the seven dwarves never meant that much to me.

Meanwhile, it’s Act Three in the days before King Arthur’s time (at least, in Shakespeare’s play) and King Lear feels his sanity reel and sway. He counted on Regan after Goneril’s betrayal and lo – here they are, his two daughters, joining hands against him while he’s cast away the third.

Of course, once the betrayals begin they won’t stop until the play ends. The play isn’t called a tragedy for nothing and good king Lear could be called But, I thought

I wake from the dream with thoughts of James Joyce’s The Dubliners this morning. Of all those real-life encounters you can’t tell without at least a smidge of transmogrification.  Finding the one thread to pull so as to get away from what really happened: not always obvious.

Late morning. A young man lies in the grass, complaining that his head hurts. The story tumbles out of why he and the group leader arrived so late.

So tragic it’s laughable

In Absurdlandia, Hautvoir, Theater on June 11, 2016 at 8:06 am

Next Friday, the boy will sit down to a four-hour exam. The main topic will be theater, poetry, fiction or essay. Within one of those fields, he’ll find a selection of three excerpts. The first question (worth 4 points) will deal with the overall genre and why these three excerpts illustrate/exemplify it.

For 16 of the remaining points, he will choose to answer in commentary mode, in dissertation or in invention (a take-off on the excerpts illustrating his own imaginary understanding of what happened before or after a particular scene).

I doubt he’ll get a passing grade. Math is his thing. He doesn’t care a whit about literature but the course was compulsory. Yesterday morning, he struggled to understand the difference between tragedy and comedy. I think he caught on at the conceptual level but this didn’t improve his ability at conveying his thoughts in writing.

Of the three tragic scenes he’d been asked to analyze, one dealt with Racine’s Berenice (written in the sixteen hundreds) when the Queen of Palestine does her monologue for the benefit of the Roman Emperor Titus (her true and impossible love) and Antiochus (her insistent but unloved suitor). Noble sentiments and lofty ideals abound – sacrifice in the name of the ideal.

The second was part of the final scene in Cyrano de Bergerac, when Roxane discovers Cyrano was the one who penned the love letters she received from Christian. Alas, too late, Cyrano dies a few twelve syllable poetical meters later.

The last was also a final scene, this time from Wajdi Mouawad’s Forêts – a sterile woman attempts to save the life of her Résistance friend, a Jewish mother, by switching their identities. Alas, too late.

Unrequited or forbidden love, truth discovered too late, the forces of evil triumphant. Nothing much to laugh about, clearly. The boy understood that much. Where it all became confusing for him (and not only): when he started to grasp that comedy dealt with…a lot of the same subject matter. Except that in comedy, the lofty often received a pin prick at an unexpected moment, the little man and his witty girlfriend often triumphed over the old moralists, and whatever sting there is in death got the finger from those dancing on the edge of the crumbling cliff.

Which, in my opinion, explains why comedy is so much harder to get right than tragedy. The absurdities – allowing them to speak for themselves. Like the boy, I “get” it as a concept. “Getting” it right in the writing is another matter.

Context: a story of

In Artists, Collage, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Story material, Sundays, Theater, Visual artists on May 15, 2016 at 8:07 am

Something like finding the right word order for a sentence. Or where to hang a painting to best effect. Bits of scenes: where best to introduce in the flow. There’s a strong visual element involved in the space where one of the characters hides out. The visual element blocks further development into words for the moment. Image in transition from the visual to the verbal.

Context of another kind: in their first version, the words and sentences occurred in something I wrote over fifteen years ago. They were part of the final scene in a series of interlocking pieces. A few months ago, a musician friend asked me to speak a few words in the mix he was composing, based on Beethoven’s Allegretto in his seventh symphony. I used some of those words, spoken by a fictional old woman walking her way from Crimea to a point beyond Lake Baïkal.

Last night, my friend had me listen to those same words spoken in Soninke in one of the final pieces of his composition called Pérégrination. The speaker: a young man from Mali. The words I walk, I walk, I walk take on yet another meaning, given the iterations that brought him to our street five months ago.

Triumphant highs – brief. Crashing lows – always too long. No point in being told I’m “too intense”. What can I do about it, except acknowledge the intensity of the highs and the lows, and manage my life as best I can with the head I’ve got. I have no idea how life fares from inside someone else’s head, no matter how much I may attempt to imagine such in fiction.

Story: Bits of living – my own, that of others – like pieces of puzzle or bits of paper getting shifted around for the “best” fit, whatever best means under the circumstances.

Still re-reading Joyce Carey’s The Horse’s Mouth. At one point yesterday, chapter 13 felt like an odd piece of autobiography, save for the fact I never was a painter, let alone someone by the name of Gulley Jimson. But still in my mind’s eye from long, long ago: Cézanne’s painting of men playing cards. Something like a page holder in one of the unfinished scenes.

Smile though your heart is broken, and so on

In Absurdlandia, Artists, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Theater on May 9, 2016 at 8:54 am

The paper is foxed and brittle. The French translation, terrible. I have no idea how the original reads nor at what book sale I picked up this copy of Mémoires capitales, the French title to Groucho Marx’s Groucho and me autobiography. Learning how he came to apply his mustache with greasepaint is fun. His first encounter with Charlie Chaplin, interesting. What matters most to me at this juncture has to do with comedy and what the man has to say (or demonstrate) about it. Saying is the easier of the two. When comedy works, you laugh, period.

Why you laugh rather than shooting yourself or writhing and fainting in coils. You laugh because you ducked at the right moment and the boojum didn’t. Saved – de justesse. You laugh because the absurdities are so huge you know a temper tantrum won’t cure anything, no more than a dramatic attempt at making them understand –  this last word in italics, caps and underlined. Can’t they see how desperate, grim, horrible and detestable the human condition? Etc.

In fact, they can. They do. I bet many a comedian is just like Grock, the circus clown who goes to see a psychiatrist about his deepening despondency. The psychiatrist doesn’t know the patient’s name and recommends he go to the circus and laugh his cares away watching the inimitable Grock. Marx mentions this story. It may have more to do with the original title of his autobiography than first appears.

The quiet awoke me around four AM. The quiet lasted no more than five minutes. The restless, relentless wind picked up again. I’ve lost track of the number of days now that tree branches have swayed and bent to the horizontal, trash cans and shutters clattered, and dust blown into eyes, ears and nostrils at every foray into the great outdoors. No rain yet, so no busted umbrellas. Monday. The mundane, the lists, the agenda items. Comedy, lurking somewhere, somehow, cleverly disguised as yet more dreck.